Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Remember this?

The 300 workout:
  • 25 pull-ups
  • 50 deadlift reps with 135lbs
  • 50 push-ups
  • 50 24" box jumps
  • 50 floor wipers (hold the 135lbs weight over your head and touch your feet - with legs as straight as possible - to the right weight, then the floor, then the left; that's one)
  • 50 single-arm 36lbs kettlebell press-and-cleans
  • 25 pull-ups (again)
I just completed it in 1 hour and 20 min. I probably took more (and longer) breaks than I should have, but those floor wipers and single-arm press-and-cleans just about killed me. And the box jumps almost made me puke for some reason.

Still, it's been completed.

My new routine is to complete this every 12 weeks to see how I improve/worsen. Hopefully I improve.

EDIT: I just got a letter from our energy company...they decided to send out Christmas cards this year in the form of a bill for the last year and a half of service.

Merry Christmas to you, too, Excel Energy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

B.S.

in Physics, that is.

I passed.

I graduated.

I now officially have my B.S. in Physics.

EDIT: I actually pulled off a B...I'm speechless.

Friday, December 14, 2007

7th Circle of Hell

Waiting for my grade to come in is worse than waiting for new computer parts. I keep refreshing the page every 15 minutes just hoping that perhaps it's been entered.

I even created an NDSU account, went through the login process, set up an e-mail account, and then logged into their campus records to see if it'd been entered there and hadn't transfered to MSUM yet.

It hadn't.

I'm still waiting.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Moment of truth

Tomorrow is the moment of truth - my last final (hopefully).

I have to get at least a 50% on it to pass, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds. The class average on the first test was 38% and on the second test it was 62%. Interestingly enough, of the 10 students in the class, I had the second lowest grade in the class on the first test and the third highest on the second one. I really have no idea what my grade is in this class after the curve is applied.

In short: I need a 50% or better on the final to get a C with no curve applied (I don't want to rely on a curve for a passing grade; I'd rather think of that as icing on the cake). If I can pull off a 75% or above I can actually get a B in the class, which would be awesome, but I'm not crossing my fingers.

EDIT: I think I passed...won't find out till, well, whenever my professor posts my grade.

EDIT #2: I think I'm going insane not knowing. The next few days will probably be hell on Earth. If you know me personally, don't be surprised if you get a lot of text messages or phone calls; I need to do something to stem my anxiety. Human interaction of any kind seems to that within an acceptable margin of error.

Monday, December 3, 2007

This is what Christmas is all about.

It's officially the Christmas season. My brother asked for snow on his wish list; he got it (or, more accurately, we got it). [EDIT: As of the next day, we're still getting it...]

Yesterday I spent about an hour making a "Christmas songs" playlist for my ipod. It consists of things like Nat King Cole, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mannheim Steamroller, the Muppets, R.E.M., They Might Be Giants, and the Rat Pack. Though wonderful, and perhaps my favorite part of the Christmas season, music isn't the only thing that's special to this season. There's also television specials.

There are a lot of Christmas specials and movies. Just about every show has done something for Christmas, as well as every cast of characters or universe of existence that has been created for the purpose of our own entertainment (up to and including Star Wars, who's Christmas special currently ranks in as the most painful two hours I have ever endured; keep in mind, that's about as long as the actual movies, which thankfully don't feature Carrie Fisher singing or Boba Fett riding a brontosaurus...yeah, not joking).


This, however, ranks in as the best moment of any Christmas special I've ever seen. Yes, seeing Prancer reunited with his fellow reindeer was heart warming (and the squirrel was really cute), and yes, it is touching to see Rudolph and the misfit toys find a place where they belong, and yes, it's nice seeing Ernest get to ride with Santa Claus to deliver the presents or Clark Griswold finally getting the house lit up, but they don't have the true meaning of Christmas.

Peanuts got it right. To date, no show has ever had a moment so poignant, so free of glamor and glitz, so straightforward and so direct about what Christmas is all about. Amongst all the flair and flashy lights that this holiday brings, the simplicity of Linus, by himself, holding his blanket and just reciting Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 8-14 on the stage in front of everyone stands out and reminds us what Christmas is all about.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Could I ever be evil?

Last week I got back into gaming. I had taken a hiatus from it because of school, work, and generally a lack of money to buy new games. Last Tuesday I picked up my copy of Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) and decided to play through it again, since I hadn't done so since I bought it almost three years ago.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, KotOR is a game set in the Star Wars universe several thousands of years before the first movies. It's a wonderful, wonderful game. For every mission, side quest, or story event, there are multiple ways to accomplish your goal - usually a nice way (which gives you light side points), mean way (which gives you dark side points), and a neutral way (which doesn't give any force points). Going through the game three years ago, I decided to go through it as a light jedi and to be the best that I could be. It didn't take very long into the game before I had maxed out the force meter to the light side and my character was a beacon of goodness and peace throughout the galaxy. They could also put the smack down on dark jedis with their stasis ability.

This time, I decided to go through the game as a dark jedi, just to experience something different. The game plays out differently depending on your choices: different dialogue options, different character interactions, sometimes even different quests, and a different ending. Now, when I first discussed this game with a friend of mine years back, he spoke about how he started out trying to be a good jedi, but found the pull of the dark side too much fun and eventually became a full blown dark jedi and at the end of game, instead of bringing peace to the galaxy like a light jedi does, he conquered and ruled it himself. I didn't find it particularly hard to play through the game as a light jedi, but figured this time I could perhaps indulge my dark side and rule the galaxy with an iron fist, too.

I was wrong.

I don't know what it is about me, but I just can't be evil. Even in a video game, I can't bring myself to do things that will be cruel or hurt others. The best I can accomplish is neutral. Every now and then I'll do some minor dark side thing like ask for a little more money for a reward, or threaten a shopkeeper to lower prices, but then later I instinctively do something that gains light side points and I break even. Even when I'm trying to gain dark side points, the best I can do is neutral. It's kind of weird; I can't be evil.

I suppose this should be taken as a good thing, but it's also kind of disturbing. Not so much on the level that I wish I could be evil, but more on the line that there are actually people who find it hard to be good, which to me seems to come naturally.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Was National Geographic always this flashy?

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law with the subject line, "Thought a physics major would enjoy this." In the e-mail was a link to a YouTube video, or, more precisely, a commercial for a National Geographic special about martial arts entitled Fight Science. It looked interesting enough; testing martial arts with modern engineering to find out if the rumors/myths about their techniques were true (the ninja's deathblow, a boxer's one-punch knockout, etc).

I found myself a copy of the program, which apparently airs every couple months on National Geographic. It starts out quite well, measuring the impact forces from boxers, Karate, Kung fu, Tai Kwan Do, and Muay Thai masters. From there it shows how fast Kung fu hits, the leverage forces of Jiu-Jitsu, then the balance and pressure point control of Ninjitsu, and the reaction times of Tai Kwan Do. This far in it was quite interesting. They explained how the anatomy reacts to these blows, showed flashy computer generated anatomies that would expand when the blow was hit; all around interesting stuff. I think it could have been better if they had shown each martial artists doing each thing (which they probably did test each one, but didn't actually show the results), just for comparison. They also showed two brothers who apparently break bricks and cement professionally to show how they do that; I don't think it fit with the martial arts, but it was still kind of cool.

All in all the first half was fun to see, though I find it somewhat disappointing that, unlike Myth Busters who actually debunk or confirm myths, National Geographic managed to prove every single rumor/myth they addressed. I'm sure it made the martial artists feel good about themselves, but it really let me down, because it felt like they were trying to confirm the myths, instead of looking at it objectively and letting the data speak for itself.

They also made a big deal about "striking faster than a snake" which they said strikes at 8-10 feet per second. For reference, that's about 3 meters per second, or about 1/3 as fast as I can sprint. Not really that impressive.

Then, for the second half, they went into weaponry to explain how different weapons interact with the body. This was far less interesting. They stopped comparing any weapons, save for the Chinese broadsword and the straight sword, and just started talking about each weapon and what it does well, going through the kali stick, bo staff, bow and arrow, shuriken, nunchaku, the three-section-staff, and the katana. The problem was, what they were saying and showing was obvious. They didn't show anything new, hardly analyzed anything at all, and it felt like they just wanted to play with their computer generated graphics. It really let me down on the second half.

Overall I'd say it was a decent watch. Some things were interesting, some were repetitive, some were dull, some were really cool. The show also sparked my interest in martial arts again, though I can't afford (monetarily) to take Aikido again, but that's another subject.

So, thanks to Brady for letting me know about this. If you ever get the chance, the first half is worth watching, the second half...not bad if you have 45 minutes to kill.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An old man named Tom

Today at work I met an old man named Tom. He had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the military during the Korean War a age 20, got his bachelor's from Princeton in economics, had a doctorate in history and education, had taught Multicultural Education at MSUM, had personally met Niels Bohr, and one time actually ran into Albert Einstein and knocked him off his bike.

He was a really nice old man. I like Tom.

Someday I hope I have stories like he had.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reagan

Barnes & Noble carries a book entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan... and it's not in the humor section.

That really makes me sad.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

300.

I've been regularly working out for about six weeks now. It feels good. I like going to the gym and I like how I feel afterwards. I sleep better. I have more energy when I'm awake. I feel healthier.

I've already got a challenge against my brother-in-law for a mile run over Christmas, but now I have a new goal for myself. The 300 workout.

The 300 workout is, as the name implies, the workout that Gerald Butler and the other actors who starred in the film 300 did to get into shape. It's perhaps the most daunting gauntlet I've yet seen when it comes to physical exercise, with maybe an exception to the Ironman Triathlon. The gauntlet is as follows:
  • 25 pull-ups
  • 50 deadlift reps with 135lbs
  • 50 push-ups
  • 50 24" box jumps
  • 50 floor wipers (hold the 135lbs weight over your head and touch your feet - with legs as straight as possible - to the right weight, then the floor, then the left; that's one)
  • 50 single-arm 36lbs kettlebell press-and-cleans
  • 25 pull-ups (again)
All of that with no breaks or recovery time in between. My goal is to complete it. I don't care if it takes me 4 minutes or 4 hours. (The current fastest time I've heard of anyone completing it was 18:11, done by the actor who played Daxos in the film 300.) I don't intend on starring in any films soon, let alone any where the wardrobe consists of boots, a cape, and a speedo, but I would still like to complete this workout.

My goal: To beat Brady in a mile run race and to complete the 300 workout once by Christmas.

I have a feeling I'm going to be in very good shape by January if I actually pull this off...

Friday, November 2, 2007

156.

According to the scale in the receiving room we have at work, I weigh 156.

That sounds more reasonable.

And yesterday I think I got the "You're a great guy, but let's just be friends" response from Microsoft. I say "think" because I don't recall applying to Spherion, the company Microsoft goes through for hiring, or dealing with them in any way, but I'm guessing my resume was relayed to them.

I really need to find a job. Well, a real job.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

174??

According to the scale at the YMCA, I weigh 174 lbs now. Last time I weighed myself - which was about a month ago and on a different scale - I weighed about 158. I suppose it's possible to put on 16lbs in a month, but that seems really unlikely seeing as how I've hovered around 150-155 lbs since I was a freshman in high school and I haven't been eating that much. I do eat a lot more protein now than before, and thanks to Men's Health I actually work out regularly to use that protein. But still, 16lbs in 4 weeks?

I need to find another scale to double check this.

Keep in mind I'm not worried about this. I'm not freaking out that I'm fat or anything of the sort. Quite the opposite; I wear pants comfortably now that a year ago I couldn't and pants that I wore a year ago I now need a belt to keep up (or in some cases have actually sewn up a bit to hold). It just doesn't feel like I've gained any weight, let alone 16 lbs worth.

[I've found I'm fond of small, simple blog entries over the 4 or 5 page ones. I prefer those for the metaphysical or philosophical thoughts, leaving the "updates on life" entries short and to the point. I find there more interesting to write because I need to be concise, and I like to think they're easier to read because they take less time and still let you know what's going on in my life, or at least what's going on in my head; not unlike a newspaper for my thoughts.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

5:46

My new fastest mile time. I have to admit this was achieved on a treadmill, so I don't know how accurate it is compared to running on a track. But I'm still happy about it.

This may sound like I'm bragging, and I guess I am in a way, but I'm really proud of myself for this.

Prior to this, my fastest mile time was 6:01 from my freshman year of high school. I've been trying to beat 6 minutes since then and today I finally did it...on a treadmill. I'm pretty sure I could have done better, but for some reason the treadmill couldn't get to the 11mph I set it to and kept shifting between 9.8 and 10.5 mph. Not really sure what was up with that, but it kept saying "max speed cannot be reached." I don't know if it was my fault or the machines, but either way I made the mile in under 6 minutes, which is all I care about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A man named George

Today at work, I met a man named George. He was about my age, maybe a little older, and was looking for the book Gangsters of Harlem, which is what the movie American Gangster is based on. We were unable to find the book, but we did find another book he was looking for.

While searching for books, we got talking. I found out he was from Harlem, was just passing through town for the day and tomorrow was going to Dubai. He said he wanted
Gangsters of Harlem because he grew up a block away from where the story takes place and knows the family that the story is about.

I like to think I'm fairly progressive when it comes to racial issues. I believe I treat Blacks, Whites, Arabs, Asians, whomever with the same levels of respect and don't stereotype. Still, I have to say, I was surprised when George said he was from Harlem. Harlem is portrayed in films and is known in society as a rough neighborhood; the kind of place a white guy from the Midwest wouldn't want to go. I felt bad being taken back by this, because George was one of the nicest customers I've ever had; the opposite of what I would have thought someone from Harlem would be like. He was friendly (he introduced himself by name and shook my hand), was extremely understanding when I said we didn't have the book in stock and all around a great guy.

Like I said, I like to think I'm progressive when it comes to race and stereotypes. Today I realized that maybe I'm not as unbiased as I thought, or at least, not when it comes to regional stereotypes...either way, I'm really glad I met George.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It blends again

My petite blender that had started to smoke works again. I ran it through the dishwasher, then took a look at it and noticed the blade wasn't secure, so I pushed it back into place, and it worked just like it should.

Now I feel kinda bad for buying the new blender. Sorry, Dad.

EDIT (from the next day): But it leaks. I feel better about buying the new blender now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Not the best buy

I went to Best Buy today with one of my friends for the first time in almost two months. I hadn't been in since my discussion with the car audio kid about how to install my system and I was happy about that. That store is a sinkhole for my wallet. It turns out that after two months it still is.

Transformers came out on DVD today. It's an alright movie. Not as good as it could have been (it is a Michael Bay film), but it is Transformers, and that alone means I needed to own it. Similar to how Aliens vs. Predator sucked hard, but because it's Aliens and Predator, I had to have it in my collection. As a pleasant tangent, the trailer for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is up and looks very, very good; just as violent and bloody as an AvP movie should be (the trailer itself is rated R). I picked up Transformers, just the single disc edition because I didn't feel like paying $7 extra for a disc I'll never watch. Sadly, I've realized that even though I'm a sucker for anything labeled "Collector's/Special Edition," I never watch the bonus features in most cases and so they're usually not worth the extra cash. Not now at least seeing as how my finances are nil.

After grabbing my copy of the movie, I started browsing around and found they have quite a few movies on sale for $10 this week. I spent a good amount of time carrying around a copy of Mission Impossible I & II and would have bought it had I found a widescreen version of M:I:III, but wasn't able to and so didn't go with the first two, either. I figured if I could get the trilogy for $20 I would, but otherwise no. During this hunt for M:I:III, I did find two movies for $10 that I decided were worth getting: Leon The Professional and Blood Diamond. My brother has raved about Blood Diamond more than once, so I figured for $10 it's probably a good deal, and I've heard very good things about Leon The Professional (the "long/Director's Cut" version), so again, for $10, a good deal. Haven't had a chance to watch either yet, but plan to do so tomorrow after work.

I should stay out of that store. I really can't afford to get back into this. Living costs enough as it is without a DVD habit to support.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It didn't blend

I've gotten in the habit of going to the gym. I like working out and exercising; it makes me feel like I'm not lazy. After working out, I go home and make myself a smoothie. Usually this smoothie consists of a banana, maybe some strawberries if I have them, about a cup of yogurt, a cup of milk, two scoops of various protein/amino acid supplements a friend gave me, and an egg. Yep, a raw egg. No, I'm not worried about salmonella, and if you watch Good Eats you shouldn't be, either. The egg blends in and makes it frothy and helps give everything a really nice texture.

Today it didn't blend.

I pushed the button on my petite blender and nothing moved. It made a noise, but it didn't move. I know I didn't overload it, because I've had this blender for almost 3 years and this is nothing new for it. So, I tinker with it a bit, hold down the button a bit more, and it starts to turn...then it starts to turn a little more...then it starts to smoke. I picked up the blender from it's stand and it started leaking all over the floor. I don't know what happened, and for once, I don't really care. I wanted my smoothie and I wasn't about to let this sissy blender stop me from getting one (I picked it up at Walmart for like $10).

I searched my apartment for a "20% select item" coupon for Bed, Bath & Beyond, hopped in my car and went in search of a new blender. They have a modest selection of blenders, and after about 15 minutes of analyzing and comparing, I settled on a big, chrome, Cuisinart blender. The blender itself is $70 which is slightly more than I wanted to spend, but at the same time, it's a blender, and it's to make healthy smoothies (a blender is your best friend if you're trying to get in shape!), so I figured my father wouldn't mind helping me out with this purchase. I get home, read the instructions, set it up, and dump what was left of my smoothie from the old, broken blender into the new, shiny one and hit the puree button. It blends beautifully.

I'm happy with my new blender.

[More stuff about what I learned during my Ramadan fast and other events later, right now, I need a post-workout shower and all that]

Friday, October 5, 2007

The end of the experiment

Today, I abandoned my cultural experiment.

I was hoping that yesterday would be a singular event, that after I ate (post-fasting eating yesterday consisted of four potatoes, three carrots, a grilled chicken breast, two protein shakes, a 32oz Powerade, five boneless buffalo wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, two glasses of Blueberry Pomegranate juice, and a couple glasses of water) I'd feel better. At the time, I was right.

This morning, I was wrong.

I felt weak this morning, but that's not too unfamiliar. It's not common, but not unheard of. I woke up early, turned in my homework to my professor, then went to work. At work, it got worse. I started to notice that I was not only sore from working out yesterday, I was weak. I was able to deal with it for the first couple hours, but when I went to pick up a box of books, I had another white flash - the same kind I had yesterday - and felt light headed afterwards to the point where I had to sit down.

This wasn't a normal post-workout feeling, this was something else.

I decided around 2ish that if I was going to continue working out like I was, I couldn't keep fasting. My body wasn't getting the calories or the protein it needed to recuperate after working out, and it was draining me of all my energy to the point of debilitation.

I feel bad about doing this, but I've experienced the fasting of Ramadan for 3 weeks now and I've almost passed out twice. At the same time, exercise is important to me and I've wanted to get into a workout regime for awhile. Now, I finally have that chance, and I want to take it. As I said, I feel bad about abandoning this fast, but if I'm having problems functioning day-to-day, even on the days I don't workout, then I think I have some justification in my choice.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Flashes of White

I've started an exercise routine with a good friend of mine. We had our second trip to the gym today. The first day, Tuesday, consisted of shoulders and arms workouts. Today was legs and the, ahem, surrounding regions. The workouts are from a Mens Health book I picked up and are setup so that you only do one set of six reps per exercise, but you do it with enough weights that you can only lift them six times before you have to stop. Then you do that same weight the next time you workout until you can do 10 reps, then you increase the weight.

I decided to push myself today, because on Tuesday all the weights I lifted weren't enough and I could easily do 10 of each. I did side lunges, leg curls, leg extensions, and felt ok, but tired and a little weak (used too high of weight for the leg curls). Then I did some simple toe raises and a couple other small exercises for my legs and all was good. When I got to the stationary squats, I grabbed two 55lbs weights and started the reps. When I got to the 5th rep on my right leg, I stumbled to stand up straight again. Presuming it was just me being tired, I did my 5th rep for the left leg, then finished up the right leg, and when I went to finish the 6th rep on my left leg, I saw a flash of light, my legs turned to butter, and I almost fell over.

I took the weights back, one at a time, because I couldn't lift both at once and walk anymore. I literally stumbled from the weights to a nearby chair; I felt like I had just been hit in the head with a hammer - I couldn't think, I was nauseous, and every few seconds everything would go white and I couldn't see...

When I started the Ramadan fast, I read up on symptoms of dehydration and malnutrition, so that, should I ever show any of these traits, I'd know what it is and know what to do. This was a very clear sign of dehydration. I literally stumbled to the drinking fountain, got a mouthful of water - struggled to swallow it - and then went into the bathroom where I proceeded to dry heave, saw everything go white again, and almost collapsed on the floor.

I ended up washing my face in the sink, took a few big drinks of water (had to force the first few down), and went back out to sit in the chairs again. After a few minutes, I was able to stand again. A few minutes later, and a few more drinks of water, I was able to walk and finish the workout with hack squats (at rather low weight, of course).What this all amounts to is that, circa 6:30 on October 4th, I broke my Ramadan fast, intentionally and knowingly. The Sun set at 7:02 that day, but that didn't matter.

I suppose I'll have to tack a day on at the end in order to make up for this. I'm really not looking forward to doing that.

Neglect

As with all the journals I've had throughout my life, this one has fallen under neglect. I'd like to correct this, and plan to do so shortly, but I just don't have the motivation to write at the moment. I wouldn't say I'm depressed, but definitely not motivated to do much right now.

I put my homework off till tonight at about 8pm and will definitely reap the consequences of that tomorrow when I turn it in barely half done. I have to be at work in
just under 6 hours, yet here I am, writing away because I'm not even motivated to go to bed yet. I've been finding excuses to do everything except what I need to do. I need to do my homework (failing this class is not an option), I just don't have the motivation. I tell myself all week long that I'm going to do it as soon as I get the assignment; that I'm going to work on it and ask questions and make sure each question is answered in full. Then, when I actually get the assignment, I find a reason to put it off. I finally decide to fix the screen door in my apartment that's been busted for over 3 months. I decide to head to the store to pick up a 3V battery for the remote control on my laptop DVD player. Upon getting back, I realize that I need shampoo, so I head back to the store again. I plan my finances for the next week, do some stretches, make a sandwich, clean my room...then I realize I should get to bed because I have to be at work at 7 the next morning and I want a good 8 hours of rest, so I go to bed at 9:30pm, homework still untouched.

The next day the cycle repeats, often repeating the same activities (cleaning my room, folding clothes, making food that I can't eat until sundown) and then go to bed early so I can get up and start the next day well-rested.

When the night before the assignment is due arrives, I finally accept that I can't put it off and start doing it, then realize I have no idea what I'm doing and so it gets turned in undone, because I don't have time the next morning to ask questions before I have to turn it in. Had I looked at it even a day sooner, I could have asked questions, thought about things longer, and really put some effort into solving it. What's worse, is that some of the problems I know how to get the answer, but I don't have time because it takes an hour's worth of equations to get there and due to my procrastination, I don't have that time.

It's my own fault, but it's something that, despite my best efforts, I can't fix. At least, I haven't been able to yet.
Next week will be different. I have a test in this class on Tuesday, and if I can prove I know what I'm doing on the test, hopefully he'll take that into consideration and realize that I'm just lazy on my homework. Hopefully.

I really should get to bed; I'll only get 4 and a half hours of sleep before I have to get up, and this is the second day in a row I've done that. It's really not healthy, but I've brought it on myself, so I'm not complaining.


Not verbally, at least.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

2 weeks

Two weeks into Ramadan, it's really just become almost habitual. I don't think about it much - I just don't eat until sundown. I no longer have to remind myself to do it, it just happens.

As to the "Adventures in Hi-Fi" storyline, I haven't abandoned it, I've just been busy. I also have a tale about getting BioShock to work on my PC. Due to a hardware issue, it wouldn't run on my hardware setup. More details later.

So it goes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day 7

I had to be at work for at 8:45 in the morning. This made fasting quite difficult, as I woke up shortly after the sun rose and thus had to be awake a full 12 hours before I was able to eat or drink anything. This does take it's toll more than waking up at 10 or 11; even though it's only a few hours, those few hours make the day seem much longer.

As I've previously said, I've found that abstaining from food/drink has provided me with a lot more free time. This free time has been largely spent in the Adventures in Hi-Fi; which I'll go into detail about tomorrow. For now, I need to sleep. I have to be at work at 7am tomorrow, which means that I'm planning to get up at about 5:45 so that I can eat and drink before sunrise (7:11am - bless the Old Farmer's Almanac). So far, the source I've been using for sunup/sundown times isn't set for daylight savings time, so while I've been correcting for that in the evening (adding an hour to the time is says), I've been forgetting to add an hour in the morning. Because of this, even when I've been awake that early, I haven't eaten past 6am because that's when I thought sunup was. It was an oversight on my part; and one I don't intend to make again.

What a delightful discovery; the sun rises and hour later than I thought. I get to eat breakfast more often! Now: sleep.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Adventures in Hi-Fi, Part I

I've always wanted to be the kind of guy who works on his own car. The kind of guy who wears jeans and a white t-shirt who has grease on his hands and can walk into his house wiping off said grease with a rag saying, "Well, that should do it." I think being that guy would make me more handy.

It would also mean that I know how my car works.

When I first started looking at colleges, I intended to do a computer science major. I figured computers are what I knew and enjoyed messing with so that's what I'd go into. As time went on, I started to think that maybe I'd rather keep computers as a hobby, as something I do for fun, and go into something else. I remembered years ago - I was in 6th grade - and my brother and I were walking into Best Buy one day when he said, "Y'know, everything is elastic."

"Really? Even metal?" I replied, thinking to myself "Ha! He didn't expect me to bring up metal. Metal is hard; it's not at all like a rubber band. I win."

"Actually, metal is very elastic," he calmly replied as he walked over to one of the metal posts (put in place to prevent cars from driving through the entrance of the store) and knocked on it with his fist. It let out a pleasant ring. "That ring is the metal vibrating. It's caused by the elasticity of the metal," he explained. At that moment, I realized how little I knew of the world. From then on, I've always interested in why and how things work.

After years of schooling, I've got a pretty good understanding of how all the fundamental forces work (though I'm a little weak on the Electromagnetic side of things - no pun intended) and have successfully modeled Earth's orbit around the Sun in a computer program I wrote. I even understand the basics of programming. These things I understand and, I feel, given enough time I can work out how more complex systems of these types function. My car, however, has always remained a black box. It's something that works when I turn the key and when it doesn't work, I have to call a man with a beerbelly and a ZZ Top beard who takes my car into his hut and the next day it works again. As pleasant as ignorance is, it's also expensive. Hence my desire to know how my car works and be able to work on it myself.

I also have this sneaking suspicion girls dig guys who work on their own cars. It's a working hypothesis; I'll let you know how it pans out.


What this amounts to is that I've started working on my car. Not mechanically yet; more audibly. By this I mean I'm been tinkering with the sound system in my car. Slightly juvenile? Yes. But frankly, I have a sound system from The Blue Skinned Beast that I purchased when I worked at Best Buy (a very nice system, mind you) and I really don't want to just sell it on ebay. Similar to my engine, however, the process of installing such a system involves a skinny kid in a blue shirt, a patch sewn onto his shirtsleeve, a garage, an unknown magic spell and about $300.

I don't feel like paying $300 to have someone do this. I don't have $300 to pay someone to do this.

I decide that if I'm going to work on my car, I might as well start with something familiar - speakers. Replacing factory speakers with a good set of aftermarket ones is probably the easiest way to improve the sound quality in your car. On Sunday morning, I wake up and decide I'm replace the speakers in the back of my car. I have to be at church at 1:30, and it's about 11, so that gives me an hour to pull off the grates, dismount/disconnect the factory speakers, and then mount/connect the speakers I wish to put in. Estimated time: 20 minutes max - it's a simple disconnect/reconnect job. Due to my lack of knowledge about how to disassemble my car, I end up having to take off (or at least unhinge) both side panels of the car in order to get at the speakers. After several minutes of prying, praying, and pulling, I get the panels off to a level where I can wedge my arms past several sharp plastic edges and pokey pieces that I'm able to replace the speakers.

I go to put the side panels back in place and think, "Well, they came out with some prying and pulling, so to go in I should just push. That's logic." As I push, I hear sounds of pieces clicking into place and I'm happy with myself. Then I hear a very loud
snap and my heart sinks. "What did I just do?" I think to myself, "I just broke my new car!" I look around frantically for the source of the snapping, expecting to find a massive crack down the side panel, finding only that a small, hard piece of plastic about an inch wide from the back has snapped off. I'm saddened, but in reality it could have been far worse. Minor cosmetic damage is a casualty of learning.

I finish, collect my tools and put everything away, test the system with "Vicarious" by Tool - it sounds pretty good; not great, but noticeably better. It took about an hour and 15 minutes and thanks to those sharp edges my forearms look like that of an teenager who just got dumped. I shower and head to church, arriving only a few minutes late.

I'm proud of myself; my first task was completed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Day Two

I think I already see a purpose to fasting. I don't have the deep, transcendent, inner peace, but I do find that I get more done throughout the day.

I go to work and find myself thinking that it will be easy to fast here, because I'm always busy.
Just like yesterday when I was at class - I was occupied, and thus didn't think about food. My thoughts are quickly interrupted by the smell of the freshly baked cookies from the cafe. Fasting is going to be harder to do at work than I thought. When my break starts, I have to keep my mind busy or else I'll go crazy with the smell from the cafe. I go to the newsstand an pick up the new copy of Men's Health, take a seat at one of the tables as far away from the cafe as possible and start flipping through it. I find an article about why your wristwatch should be iconic - that it should show sophistication and style; I've heard all this before. I always figured a watch was an important piece of the outfit, sort of an icing on the cake thing, but it doesn't need to be too high end - my Relic always suited most scenarios. However, two weeks ago my wristwatch broke. More specifically, the little gear that sets the time broke off. This hasn't been a problem yet, but with daylight savings time coming up, I'm going to be in trouble. I took it to a watch mechanic and he said it'd cost a minimum of $25 to fix; the watch is barely worth that. While reading this article, I decide that yes, I do need a new watch. Men's Health lists their "top choices" (or something) of wristwatches, the first being a Zenith with a price tag of $29,700. I really wonder what the demographic for Men's Health is, because it seems that if you're not making $100,000 a year by the age of 25, you're outside of it.

I need a new watch, but not one that costs twice what my car does.


I get through the rest of the day alright: no
accidental trips to the drinking fountain, no cookies or frappucinos from the cafe, not even a sip of the pure, pressed apple juice that I've become highly addicted to (I've had a bottle every day I've worked since I started at Barnes & Noble). When I walk out the door, I'm proud of myself - it's nearly sunset and I've made it through day two of Ramadan. I just need to keep my mind busy during those tempting hours I'm at work. Thankfully, the array of magazines can do that and more. So far today, I've decided I need a new watch, a new pair of shoes, and a new pinstripe suit coat. By the end of Ramadan, I imagine I'll believe I need a whole new wardrobe thanks to and Men's Health and Esquire.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day One

Thus ends day one of Ramadan.

It wasn't as bad I was expecting. At around noon I was pretty hungry, and when my class ended at 3 this afternoon I couldn't get my mind off of a chicken sandwich. Around 4, I think my body finally accepted the fast and just stopped trying to get me to eat. It wasn't that bad.

It was cloudy at the end of the day, so I didn't know exactly when sunset was. I was pretty much counting down the time because I wanted to eat. I wasn't so much hungry as just wanting to taste of food. I figured something like 6:30 would be a good time to consider sunset, but Doug decided to check when the sun officially set here. Turns out it didn't go down till 7:44pm. Being true to my word of sticking to this fast, I waited until 7:44, at which point I made myself two burritos, had some of the chicken and dumplings that Doug had made (he offered), and a handful of Wheat Thins (I found out the Garden Vegetable Wheat Thins are far better than the Sundried Tomato and Basil).

Today wasn't perfect, though. While waiting for my class to begin outside the room, I nonchalantly wandered to the drinking fountain and had a sip. Immediately afterward I realized what I had done and was mad at myself - then I remembered that unintentionally eating or drinking doesn't count as breaking the fast "for it is only Allah who has fed him and given him drink." I felt bad that I had failed after only 4 hours, but it wasn't technically failing as it was unintentional, so I can still say I'm holding to it.

8 minutes

I've been awake for 8 minutes and I'm already thirsty.

I found out a couple of years ago that I sleep with my mouth open. Because of this, I wake up with a really dry mouth and throat in the morning, and occasionally throughout the night. Around this same time, I discovered that I should keep a bottle of water/Powerade next to my bed, so when I wake up I can drink it down and rehydrate myself. I forgot to remove that bottle last night.

It's taunting me.


The good news is that because I was so anxious about fasting, I actually dreamed I was fasting, so when I woke up it was on my mind and didn't start off Ramadan by breaking it. That made me feel good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It begins.

Ramadan begins tomorrow morning. I'm actually finding myself rather anxious about this.

I imagine this is going to be hard.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Living Biblically

I've come to appreciate many things about working at a bookstore. I assumed years ago that I'd enjoy such a job, and I'm happy to report that my presumptions have so far been accurate. One thing I've found curious though is that the perks of the job I enjoy most are the ones I was either unaware of or overlooked when I applied for the job. Seeing as how my last inclusion of lists was well received, I'll present said perks in a similar fashion:
  • Coworkers I can talk with about numerous topics.
  • Discounts on books, music, and items in the cafe.
  • Cute girls working in said cafe that I like to think I may, one day, muster up the courage to flirt with.
  • Access to a vast array of reading material on any subject (and I do mean that; rule 34 would have a hard time competing with this selection).
  • Advanced reader's copies of books.
Of all those perks, the ones I enjoy most are the cute girls in the cafe and the advanced reader's copies of books. I believe it's safe to presume that I don't need to go into detail about the cafe girls, but the concept of advanced reader's copies and the joy they've brought me I will extrapolate on.

The idea is that before a book is released, uncorrected editions are sent to reviewers, advertisers, and lastly, booksellers, so that they may read the book and give feedback before it's released. This is where those comments on the backs of books like, "This book wasn't a complete waste of my time!" and "With a heroine as sexy as she is deadly, you know this book will seduce it's readers just like the sensual bite of a vampire!" (I made the first one up, the second I wish I was making up).

I put 'booksellers' at the end of the list because we are the last ones to receive the book, usually no more than a couple weeks before it is released. We receive various books from stories about people climbing buildings while in college to Ira Flatow's new book based on his radio show "Science Friday" to the new book by John Skipp in
his 'splatterpunk' genre.

Before I continue, I need to talk more in depth about that last one. John Skipp, apparently a well-known horror/gore writer who, according to the cover, is famous, a legend in horror fiction writing, and on par with Clive Barker. How this is true I can't imagine. His most recent work, entitled The Long Last Call, is complete rubbish. I don't mean it's rubbish in that the plot is bad (it is) or that his graphic, gory descriptions are of poor taste (they are). I mean this book is rubbish in that the man seems to have no concept of how to write cohesively or with any degree of professionalism. Now, seeing as how this is an advanced reader's copy I understand that it is has some grammatical, punctual and spelling errors; I can easily overlook and forgive those. Those, however, are not what I'm referring to, either. What I'm referring to is a book that begins four consecutive paragraphs with an ellipsis, or, while in third-person omniscient narrative, describes a man as "the f***ing owner" or "he punched her right in her f***ing face." This is not a first-person narrative. This is not a person telling you of an event that happened. This is a work (used loosely) of literature (used very loosely) that is swearing in what I can only see as a poor attempt to add realism and emphasis to actions. What it does add is making the story sound like something a 7th grader would write; one who had never had a writing course, learned to talk growing up in downtown Brooklyn and has no idea what a narration is supposed to be. The flagrant sexual acts, the graphic detail of excessive, needless violence, a juvenile plot, faceless, flat, boring characters, and the pathetic, immature narration make it a truly horrific story to read (which isn't scary in the slightest and quite predictable). I'm almost tempted to read his earlier works just to try and understand why anyone could consider him talented or how he ever became a "best-seller" (which I'm starting to realize means squat).

Back to the topic at hand; the perks of advanced reader's copies. About two weeks ago, we received in a book titled The Year of Living Biblically. Initially I assumed this would just be another 'Christian Inspiration' or devotional book (a disturbingly large and popular section). Underneath the title, it says, "One man's humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible," and towards the bottom it simply says, "A.J. Jacobs, auther of The Know-It All." I was a bit taken back by this; I had flipped through The Know-It All and had found it rather interesting, but not interesting enough to purchase as I never saw myself actually reading it. This, however, is an advanced reader's copy - a book free for the taking to whomever claims it first from the lounge - and on top of that, it's about living Biblically, which could be really entertaining.

I was right. It is really entertaining.

Jacobs writes with such poignancy, such clarity, wit and style that reading this memoir is a complete pleasure. I've found myself bypassing television, video games, and many hours of sleep simply because I couldn't put the book down, or in some cases actually turning off the television because this book is more entertaining than television. Jacobs, who grew up in a secular household, undertook a challenge to live the Bible as accurately as possible and documented his thoughts along the way - seems simple enough. Still, he didn't just live the spirit of the law, or even the intent; if there was any question about what it meant, he followed it to the letter. Everything from dressing all in white, attaching tassels to the corners of his clothing, not shaving the edges of his beard, not touching women who are "unclean" (menstruating; including his wife) and even going so far as to stone adulterers (he uses pebbles), give money to widows and orphans (asking people if they're either widows or orphans so he can give them money), blowing a horn at the beginning of each month, and going to an Atheist organization meeting in Manhattan to speak with non-believers (that way he knows he's speaking with those who don't believe). One of the most entertaining things is that he cites all the passages and rules he's referring to, so if you don't believe it's actually in there, you can look it up yourself (some are very perplexing that I'd never heard of, like the rule about how, if two men are in a fight, if one man has another pinned, and the wife of the pinned-man grabs the groin of the other man, her hand is to be cut off. It's apparently often interpreted as a parable for saying "women shouldn't embarrass their husbands" or something similar...still, it's a weird one). He used several Bibles for references to make sure he understood what it meant, as well as Rabbis, Priests, and other knowledgeable men so if he had any questions he could ask them.

It's a truly remarkable book, a riot at times and very enlightening and heartwarming at others (seeing how living Biblically effects his outlook on life and those around him is quite endearing) and it really drives home the idea that a lot of things that may seem arbitrary about religion actually do have a purpose. For example, Jacobs mentions how the Bible says not to partake of gossip or speak ill towards others. As he begins to put it into practice, he writes about how he's found that those negative thoughts don't even enter his mind, that overall he has a more positive view of people and is nicer to those around him. It's also quite entertaining how, at first, he constantly finds himself telling little lies to explain why he does something because it's too awkward to say, "because the Bible says so," to people (though he does later begin to do so). His section about finding a Bible is quite entertaining as well. With this being an advanced reader's copy, I'm not supposed to quote directly from it, but retelling the story wouldn't do it justice, and A.J. Jacobs seems like a pretty easy-going guy with a good sense of humor, so I don't think he'll mind me quoting this (it's from page 8):
I go to a Bible bookstore in midtown Manhattan. It's a huge, Wal-Mart-sized store with fluorescent lighting and a long counter of cash registers at the front. My salesman is named Chris, a soft-spoken guy with the body of an Olympic power lifter. He shows me tables covered with dozens of Bibles of all shapes, sizes and linguistic slants - from the plain-spoken English of The Good News Bible to the majestic cadence of The Jerusalem Bible

He points out one Bible I might want - it's designed to look exactly like a Seventeen magazine: an attractive (if long-sleeved) model graces the front, next to cover lines like "What's your spiritual IQ?" and side-bars such as "Rebecca the control freak."

"This one's good if you're on the subway and are too embarrassed to be seen reading the Bible," said Chris. "Because no one will ever know it's a Bible."

It's an odd and poignant selling point. You know you're in a secular city when it's considered more acceptable for a grown man to read a teen girls magazine than the Bible.
It's a simple event: man goes in to buy a Bible, talks to the clerk, buys a Bible. Seems simple enough, but his writing is so wonderfully done that the story is perfectly visualized -
you can see Chris talking to him, you can see the Bible he's describing, you can see the story play out perfectly and it's topped off with a humorous afterthought to wrap it up.

It's brilliant writing. The entire book is written with such clarity. I'm enthralled with it.

His desire to live Biblically for a year has actually inspired me to try something of my own. I've always been fascinated with Islam, and the more I learn about it the more I respect it. In a similar fashion to Mr. Jacobs, I've decided that this year I'm going to try and do the fasting of Ramadan - go 30 days without food or water from sunup to sundown (there are other restrictions, as well). My faith usually asks for members to fast on the first Sunday of every month, but it's something I always did begrudgingly. It was more of an annoyance than a sacred act, and usually one I did only when my mother would remind me which led to me grumbling because I wanted my Lucky Charms in the morning. With a fast like Ramadan, it's something I know I'm going to be doing and is entirely voluntary and intentional. I'm doing so not as an inconvenience but as an act of piety and to (hopefully) raise my understanding and compassion for those less fortunate than myself.

I think it'll be a good experience. I'm actually kind of excited for it, even though it will definitely be a challenge to go 30 days without eating while the sun is up. I'm sure I'll make more than one entry during that time; it will hopefully make for an entertaining read.

[In The Year of Living Biblically A.J. Jacobs says he occasionally googles his own name to see what people think of his books - in light of being honest, I'll admit part of what made me write this post and use his name so much is because I think it'd be awesome if he read this. He even says he reads blogs that mention him to see what people think of his books.]

Friday, August 24, 2007

Professionalism

I've been reading over my more recent blog posts and have found something disturbing - I've lost the initial sense of professionalism I intended to have when I started. As the little quip under the title says, I'd like this to be something entertaining, something worth reading, not just another college kid's blog.

The irony of this is that this post itself I feel falls into the category of "amateur" or, in the worst case scenario, "generic-teen-blog-esque." I've started reading a new memoir by A. J. Jacobs (I state this because my next post idea is largely inspired by this work), and it's exactly what I want this to be. It's not full of entirely profound thoughts, though more than once I've been impressed by what he's written, but rather it's just well written to such a level that it's a lot of fun to read.

As I said, I'll go into more detail in the next post. Ideally, from here on, each post will attain a level of professionalism in the style as well as quality in the writing that will make them a pleasure to read.

Someday, I'd be tickled if someone ever found this entertaining enough to collect and publish as a memoir. The style, the ability to write a simple event like getting locked in a bathroom for 4 hours in such a way that it's fascinating to read is what I want this blog to be (this example is provided in part by A. J. Jacobs). I want to achieve that level of talent that A. J. Jacobs has achieved...which is probably a rather trite desire seeing as how he's the editor of Esquire magazine (among other things) and is exceptionally skilled in his craft. Aspiring to his level of manuscript writing is like an actor saying, "if I could only attain the skill of Ewan McGreggor," or a painter declaring that someday they'd like to be as good as Salvador Dali. That may be a little excessive; though I am currently enthralled with his new work, and I am truly impressed by his writing finesse, he's not Dostoevsky or Victor Hugo. I'd put him on par with Vonnegut, which alone is a great compliment in the world of literature and writing. He's good, maybe even great, but not legendary.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I want a new drug... err, car.

I hate my car. It's effectively a death trap at the moment. It has no air bag, the driver's side seatbelt is broken, the door only opens about half the time and the automatic transmission has trouble shifting sometimes. Of course, that's also not mentioning the poor gas mileage, the fact that it's not reliable enough to take outside the city, all the malfunctioning warning lights, the broken components (washer-fluid switch and the like) and the 240k miles on it.

It's been a good car for my family, but I'm freakin' tired of it and want something new.

What I want is where the issue comes in. I want a sports car; but not just a generic cheap one. The reason I say that is because it seems like everyone in this city owns a Grand Am, and though they look like sports cars, they aren't. If I have a car that looks fast and maneuverable, I want it to be fast and maneuverable. I've been looking at everything from Camaros to Firebirds to BMWs to Subaru WRXs to 3000GTs. The real problem comes in that I have about $9000 to spend on this thing...that severely limits the sports car market.

I've found a bunch of cars I like, but they're all in other states, so I can't go check them out. I went to various dealerships today and didn't really find anything that appealed to me in my price range; I did find a 1969 Camaro that was very sweet, but it cost about $19,000, so it's not really a possibility.

I'm being picky here, but that's because this is the first time I've ever actually had a say in my car. The cars I've had so far have been either a hand-me-down that half the family drove (the Pontiac I now own) or a cheap car my mother won in a drawing at dealership (a Plymouth Acclaim). They were good cars to start with and to get used to driving, but now I'm a 20-something male, almost done with school, and frankly, I want a freakin' sports car! Sure, it's not economical to do so, but when it will be economical to do so I'll probably be in my late 20's or early 30's and ready to start a family, in which case I'd want a nice sedan, not a sports car. Right now, I don't have a family nor am I about to, so a fast sports car with very little room is a somewhat logical choice, and it's one I'm making.

The search is on - I'll be sure to post how it turns out.

UPDATE: It's looking like my father is finally on board with this idea. I'm going in to the bank tomorrow to look into getting a loan and then I'm really going to hit the internet and newspapers hard scanning for a car...on a side note, does anyone have any experience buying cars online from out-of-state cities? Would that be a good idea or sketchy at best

Sunday, August 12, 2007

just keep swimming

I'm going to try and keep this brief. If I don't, I'm liable to go on for far longer than I should and far longer than is healthy.

I worked this morning. I shelved books, helped customers find books, and, when I got the chance, talked with a co-worker I have grown fond of faster than I should have. It was her last day...sort of. I found out she's staying on, just working one day a week now. Still, I know I won't see her as much, and that makes me sad. Initially I saw in her a girl I could have something more than a friendship with, but in the short few weeks we've talked, I've learned that that might not be possible. And I'm ok with that, I really am; in her I see a friend. I see a friend I can get to know better. I see a friend I can talk with, sit around and discuss literature, film, science, history, philosophy, whatever. She knows more than I on many subjects, I know more than her on others, and on more subjects still we're equally uneducated beyond what we've read in our spare time...but that's what makes the discussions so heartwarming and delightful to me.

I was also introduced to the song "Hey There Delilah," by Plain White T's...that's another entry, though.

As I said, I'm trying to keep this brief. Already I can see I'm failing.

What I meant to say was that I'm satisfied with just being friends with her. This happened recently with another girl to whom I have a long, beautiful, and painful past with. I am again happy to have her as a friend. I love her more than I can express in the purest way and wish her the best in her chosen career - I know she'll excel at it as I've seen the needed traits in her, and they're a part of what make her a girl I still love. But, that's another story and one I won't tell here. It's something too close to my heart, and something that will stay there. I love her still - I always will, and I can't imagine that could ever change - but I am not in love with her.

I cleaned my room today after work. It took a good part of the day doing laundry and washing my sheets. I also put together a frame for my bed so it looks more complete and less thrown together. It feels wonderful lying in my bed, satin sheets freshly washed, all my clothes hung in my closet or folded in my dresser, all the trinkets I've collected scattered around my desk, and a note that I found, now taped to my wall. I found the note in a drawer, and honestly I don't know where it came from. It's in my handwriting but I don't remember ever writing it. It's a blue, square piece of paper, and in black ink it says:

Let her go.

Which is what I need to do in my life. It was written about a specific girl; the way it's written, the piece of paper itself, and the fact that I've hung onto it make that obvious to me. What wasn't obvious at the time was what it means to me, what it embodies. That alone is my philosophy on life; I just need to let go. I need to let go of her. I need to let go of worry and doubt. I need to let go of the facades. I need to just let go. By holding on to these things I cling to the past, hoping to relive happier times and days when the future seemed so certain, so wonderful. I can't move forward while holding to the past any better than I can swim across a lake while staying on the shore; I need to let go. I want to let go.

I'm glad I kept that piece of paper. As I said, it's on my wall, across my desk, always there to remind me of what happened in the past while at the same time reminding me not to hold onto it. The past is beautiful, it should be remembered - especially if there's someone you love in those memories - but there's a difference between remembering and clinging. I want to remember. I don't want to cling.

With that, I resolve to let her go. The piece of paper was written about a single girl, but it applies to more girls than her and more than relationships in general. I've let her go. I'm going to keep swimming.

[I may add images to this later if any come to mind. At the moment, I think the text itself gives the correct atmosphere.]